What to Write About When You Don’t Know What to Write About

. . . other bloggers’ and writers’ blogs, that’s what!

It’s Linda taking over for The Boss today; she’s still under the weather.  Rey’s off on an audition for a commercial.  My BFF can’t quite leave the actress in her behind—or is that the ham?  <LOL>

The Boss has no doubt mentioned how much she wants to have an awesome, successful blog.  Maybe, one day, she will; timing and time truly are everything.  My belief is if the heart’s in the right place, and the determination’s there, anything’s doable.

That got me to thinking that maybe I’d touch upon successful writing blogs—based upon what I’ve seen in my research travels and what I’ve discussed with fellow bloggers.

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Here are three worth checking out (to start):

Joanna Penn’s someone The Boss and a number of her blogging colleagues follow.  The Creative Penn is laden with informative, instructive posts and podcasts.  Joanna’s a NY Times bestselling author, so she knows what she’s talking about.  And when she talks, you want to absorb every detail.  Charming and compelling, the woman is an absolute pleasure to listen to.  She provides loads of valuable guidelines and recommendations for aspiring writers, so check her out . . . then subscribe for regular email updates!

Daily Writing Tips is chockablock full of, yes, tips—from grammar to punctuation to creative writing.  Like, who knew there were coordinate and noncoordinate adjectives?  If you need help with writing basics, are unsure about word meanings and differentiations (as I apparently am), this is the site to visit.  You’ll even find quizzes, which are always fun; who doesn’t like a challenge or two?

I can’t not mention an old favorite, one many of us grew up with in its physical, tangible form: Writer’s Digest.  The site is full of beneficial resources—such as agent listings and story coaching, among [many] other edifying topics—webinars, contests and competitions . . . and, of course, tons of articles to assist a writer in cultivating his or her talent.

A short and sweet post today, but hopefully useful.  As The Boss has often stated, you never need go it alone: countless sites offer valuable and practical advice, provide trends and news, and help set you on that path to success.  You simply need to . . . yes, you’ve got it . . . do your due diligence.

Happy writing!

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Category Cherry-Picking (by Rey)

The Boss is down with a bad cough-cold (it ain’t pretty, let me tell ya) and asked one of us to write the Wednesday post.  JJ and Linda claimed I’d done such a good job in past, they volunteered me to do it.  Whatever.  I’ll just look at it this way: when ya got it, ya got it.

Given what she’s been recently posting about, I opted for “categories” to stay in the theme and scheme of things.  (See, I’m not just a pretty face.)

Like tags, you use categories to help organize your blog content so viewers/followers can locate similar posts.  Consider them a Table of Contents.  While it’s recommended that tags be 80 characters or less, categories should be 25 or less.

Firstly, you want categories to be obvious and clear, right?  People use them to find more of your stuff on the same subject.  Just like when you’re choosing your tags and keywords, be selective.  For example, if you have a private-investigation site, you wouldn’t want simple or vague categories such as: Cases, Issues, Consulting, or Investigations.  To better guide viewers (also known as potential clients), you’d go for something like: Successful Industrial Surveillance Cases, Custody Issues, Security Consulting, Insurance Fraud Investigations, and Corporate Investigations.  Differentiate.  Clarify.  Home Security Consulting versus Corporate Security Consulting.  Make it easy for someone to right away visit the right page or post.  . . . Right?  You got it.

Secondly, make sure category headings are understandable and are compromised of keywords.  When people search for something, they use keywords to do so.  And remember that the right keywords lead to increased blog/site traffic.

Thirdly, keep those category titles similar in set-up.  Are you going to use all or no caps, formal or informal wording?  Will you use strictly verbs or all nouns?  Every part of your blog should look professional and be consistent.

Fourthly, you don’t want a whack of them.  Like recipes in an elephant-sized cookbook, if there are too many categories, your viewer might develop eye strain . . . never mind become impatient.  Ten should be about the limit.

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Over time, you’ll probably find that some blog categories have become redundant or ineffective.  Make sure to revisit them now and again, because what you planned in the blog’s beginning may not be where you’re at a year later.  For example, you may find you only have a small handful of posts in one category.  Or you have one where all or most of your posts are lodged; this may be because the category title is way too vague.  Do some “spring cleaning”.  Change vague category headings and delete invalid ones.

Lastly, you know that you can link to your categories and tags from your pages and posts, don’t you?  This simplifies navigation for your viewers, for one thing, but it can also hold or pique their interest so that they want to see more.

This is my “Snippet of Advice” re categories.  I could dig up some technical stuff, but anything more intensive or involved would go over my P.I. – actress head.  But you can bet dollars to donuts I’m going to do some serious research, because I’m finding that learning is really kind of fun.

And the next time The Boss asks one of us to write a post, I’ll be the one who volunteers me.


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What’s in a [Key]Word?

A lot.

Keywords are, essentially, the words and phrases you type into a search engine such as Google (Bing, Yahoo, etc.) when you’re looking for something; truly, they can be anything.  They’re also the words and phrases people type into said search engine when they’re looking for something—such as your blog/site, product, or service.


Use keywords to boost traffic to your blog/site via search engines . . . to make your site more visible to folks looking for keywords related to whatever you may be offering.  How do you do this?  Quite simply, by applying SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques in your blog layout and writing.  Think: target.

My favorite phrase?  You got it: do your due diligence.  In this case, research keywords and decide which will best drive traffic to your awesome blog.  Take into account the ultimate goal(s) when selecting them.


Keyword searches help you verify—and understand—what your viewers/followers (potential customers) are seeking.  Among other things, consider how:

  • much traffic a particular phrase gets
  • competitive it is for ranking (i.e. how many others are attempting to be found by that word/phrase)
  • appropriate it is to you / your business.

A blog post with a relevant keyword phrase in the title tag will rank higher for searches because it serves as a strategic signal for search engines.  As such, it will prove more pertinent and, thus, increase click-through or click.  This is, for all intents and purposes, the action of clicking on a link to get from Point A to Point B (often defined as an instant response to an ad).

Optimize each post.  It’s been recommended that you use one keyword per post (too many and you become submerged in Ocean Blog-Posts).  Make it a dynamic one!

It’s not as difficult or overwhelming as it sounds.  Give thought to your blog/site.  What’s your niche?  Keep in mind the categories and posts: what words best describe them?  List them and then enter them into various search engines to find out how significant they are (i.e. how high the search volume is).  Look for phrasing options.  Honor—and apply—what you find.

There are countless free tools, like Google Adwords Keyword Planner, to assist you with finding pertinent keywords/phrases.  And page-grader tools will help you determine if your blog content is truly effective.  There are lots (!) of sites and programs that will facilitate your learning and development as a [successful] blogger.  It merely takes time and commitment, as anything worth becoming skilled at does.  You can do it and you never need go it alone.

Here’s my “keyword” for the day and week: perseverance.  What’s yours?

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

Never had a reason to say that until now . . . and now that I have, that’s [thankfully] behind me, so let’s move on to the last of the running-a-contest posts.

Having decided to run a contest, we’ve determined the:

  • rationale (our goal)
  • target
  • prize(s)
  • frequency, and
  • type.


Whether running a random-winner or most-votes-collected contest, we need to decide how to select the winner(s).  If you’re running a sweepstakes, where money or a prize is awarded to the contestee, you’ll want to ensure the contest is fair.  Give thought to using a random-selection tool site like Rafflecopter, Wishpond, Random Picker or Random.org, to name a few.  (They’re relatively easy to utilize, which I love.)

Basically, you collect entries on your contest entry page and when the contest has ended, click the “Select Winner Randomly” or “Generate Winner” button (or whatever the case may be, given the tool).  Hurrah, one contestee is quickly selected—at random.

If you’re going with a vote-type contest, you’ll be happy to know that most contest apps have built-in voting buttons and counters, which automates the retrieval of entries with the most votes.

I understand there are two great free tools for running Facebook contests, so if FB is your happy place, have at it (we like things that are simple and straightforward).

Edgerank Checker offers a tool that exports “Likes & Comments” from Facebook contest posts.  The site and product is called “Contest Capture” and is reputed to be “simple to use”.  Woodbox’s app is comparable to “Contest Capture”, but takes it one step farther—you have three options for choosing your winner.

Here are some quick but important points:

Ensure you craft an upbeat [awesome] “congratulations, you won!” email announcement.  Avoid the cookie-cutter approach and make it personal, especially if you have more than one winner.  And do check with him/her/them to see if it’s okay to publicize names (if this is your intention).

Make certain your winner has a good five to seven days to respond to the great news.  If there’s no response, select a new winner . . . and make sure you inform the original winner of this.

One thing you always want to include, regardless of which winner-selection tool or method you choose: a “Right to Disqualify” caveat.  This is vital, in the event you need to disqualify an inappropriate or fraudulent entry.


I’m going to give some [serious] thought to my own upcoming contest and draft a plan.  Good luck to me . . . and you . . . and here’s to garnering some winning results.

We Have a Winner!

Last post, the focus was running a blog contest—this post, ideas for a contest.  Given our remarkable if not impressive imaginations, the sky’s truly the limit (a valid statement worth repeating).

To restate, my intent: have a nothing-fancy, e-book giveaway at the end of March.  Yeah, kind of obvious.  That’s okay, because this suits my goal for the interim . . . but down the road, who knows what thrilling/sensational contests may transpire?  (I’ll keep you posted, literally.)

So, over to you.  You’re contemplating having a contest, but aren’t yet sure what to do to compel folks to follow you or buy from you and—most importantly—stick with you.

There are two basic types of contests:

  1. Entrants provide an email address to enter: this is a random-draw contest.  When the deadline arrives, you indiscriminately select a winner.
  2. Entrants submit “something” to compete for the prize: this is a best-entry contest.  These can be quite fun, but should be fairly straightforward; too time-consuming or intensive, and people won’t enter.

Let’s consider a few concepts:

  • best / most fun / silliest selfie, photo, or vid (perhaps with a caption or slogan relevant to your site’s theme or product/service)
  • social media notions that inspire potential entrants to share photos or vids that highlight your site, product or service
  • promotional post or composition about why your site is so awesome
  • fun / first-rate reasons why folks should follow your site, buy your product, invest in your service (and so forth)
  • compelling “why I should win” pieces of writing
  • thought-provoking quiz or trivia questions (perhaps about your site, product or service)
  • regular product and/or service giveaways (you determine how often and how much).


Depending on what you’re selling or blogging/writing about, you might want to run a specialized contest: most adorable pet or baby pics, stunning travel or holiday photos, yummy dessert/dish recipes, inventive or inspired drawings or designs.  You might even go for something like “The 500th Follower Wins”.  Again, imagination is boundless.  Have at it.

Decide how often you want to run a contest, too—once annually, twice, thrice?  It’s up to you.  But don’t do one [or many] simply for the sake of it: make sure you identify why you’re having a contest.  What’s the ultimate aim?  Determine your prize(s).  Decide how you’ll choose your winner(s)—we’ll look at this in a subsequent post.  Organize all pertinent components accordingly, because you don’t want any [flabbergasting] surprises.

To reiterate an essential point, keep it all simple and sweet—always.


And the Winner Is . . . ?

Anyone who focuses on a goal and sets it in motion is a winner, that’s who.  The outcome doesn’t have to be successful: the important thing is that you gave it a shot.

One of my goals in the next two months is to run a contest.  The plan: give away the three books in the Triple Threat Investigation Agency in both e-version and hopefully hardcover—“hopefully” because my formatter/designer is still MIA (hmm, wonder if that’s a sign).

This got me to thinking about contests and all that’s involved—and hey, what a great topic for a post!

Why run a contest?  To attract new visitors/followers and boost traffic to your blog or site would be key reasons.  To promote your business would be another.  Whatever the reason, for the contest to be a “winner”, the prize(s) should be pertinent to your site.  You want to attract contestants—followers—that are sure to [want to] stick with you over the long haul.


Given A Writer’s Grab-Bag is about writing and blogging (and the private eyes from The Triple Threat Investigation Agency), it’s a natural to have an e-book giveaway.  For you, it could be something completely different.  In fact, there’s nothing that says you have to give away something strictly dedicated to the focus or topic of your blog, but something relevant would make sense.

If you’d like to run a contest, consider what would work best for you.  Give some thought to what you’re hoping to accomplish and set an objective.  For me, I’d like to attract more followers—I’d be [very] happy with 50 new ones.  And if I could sell a few e-books in the process, all the better.

You know, he more I think and type about it, the more I realize this might be two- or three-part post.

Running a Contest = Giving [something] Away

Running a Contest = What Type of Contest Should be Run

Running a Contest = How to Select the Winner(s)

<LOL>  Just when you think something’s fairly straightforward, it isn’t.  Good ol’ Mr. Murphy’s Law hits you smack-dab between the eyes.

Let’s look at some options as to what you might like to give away.

Books: yeah, I’ve got them on my brain, but maybe you’d like to offer books/e-books you’ve written . . . or provide ones related to your blog’s theme.

Gift Cards/Certificates: who doesn’t love them (I do, I do)?  You can also offer the electronic (e) version.

Your Skills: while I don’t generally focus on my editing experience on this blog, if I were so inclined, I could offer free editing services for a select number of contest entrants.  What might you offer?

Ca$h: who doesn’t love cash (I do, I do)?  If you can afford it—and it doesn’t have to be a lot, by any means—give some away.

Products / Services from Another Company or Blogger: contact a blog or site that’s piqued your interest and/or is in line with yours.  See if they might consider serving as a sponsor and/or providing you with a freebie to give away.  In turn, perhaps you’d post a review or run a promotion for them.

How to announce the contest?  Have a page (which is stationary) and not a post (which is always moving as a new one is posted).  That said, however, also post about the contestPlace a link in your sidebar (or header).  Share the contest—in simple, straightforward terms—on social media.

Lastly, when all is said and done, and the contest has ended, think of a way to cheer up the non-winners.  Email them singularly maybe.  Offer something to entice them to remain followers, like a guest post perhaps (imagination truly has no bounds).

Speaking of winning, I have a lottery ticket to check . . . so I’ll leave you with the notion of running a contest.  Next post: a look at different types of contest ideas.

Here’s to a winning day, my friends.


#1 . . . One . . . Won

#1 = single = first/firstly = one = sole = singular

The title, oddly, came in a dream.  What does/did it mean?  No idea!  But I felt a need to play with it.  Given this blog is related to writing/blogging and the gals (JJ, Rey and Linda) at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency, I’m simply going to type whatever pops into the ol’ noggin’.  Why not do one post without a pre-set plan in mind?

The first action I’m taking this (very early) morning is penning this post.  The second-first is taking a breather while enjoying a hot coffee (it’s really cold here right now) and a few cookies (orange-cranberry, in case you’re curious).

My single thought/objective re A Writer’s Grab-Bag: learn how to make and get the most out of it.  Utilize all the bells and whistles.  Make it happen.  That’s the #1 intention for the year.

My sole aim re the Triple Threat Investigation Agency series: get ”Forever Poi” completed and ready for Amazon, etc.  My one dream re the TTA P.I.s?  <LMAO>  Get a film/TV deal.

Maybe you’re new to this blog or blogs in general, or are thinking of starting your own.  That’s awesome!  You’ve got your #1 on the list nailed.

The #1 question on some folks’ minds perhaps: why create a blog?  We-ell, besides the fact it’s fun, blogging’s become a prevalent means of communication.  It’s an excellent way to share information.  Did you know money could be made at blogging?  T’is true.   It takes time, however, and commitment . . . and, as the saying goes, don’t quit your day job (at least not right away).

So, first and foremost, determine your niche/focus.  Who will you blog for?  Make it a sole priority to become familiar with “Blogging 101”.  Don’t be daunted by the plethora of information out there; embrace it.


It’s been on your mind, on your tongue, and in your heart—so, commit to it.  And Day One: set up that blog (it’s neither difficult nor time-consuming).  It’s Establish goals.  Get a domain name and blog host, install a free blogging platform, add an opt-in form to collect subscribers/followers, start posting (take a look at last year’s posts).  And after you’ve got that marvelous eye-catching blog up and running, one thing you’ll want to do: keep it interesting, keep it fresh/current.

We all have it within us to do well.  You (and I) can be top bloggers—#1s!  It’s merely a matter of applying ourselves and managing each objective as if it were the first and foremost one.

We’ve won when even one (no matter how small the goal is) is done, because—kudos to us—we made a decision and saw it through to fruition.

Ones have run into some, but they’re still single units in the grand scheme of it all.  And now, the single thing I’m going to do is give thought to the weekend post while munching more of the aforementioned cookies.  Nummmmm.

Have one heckuva day, my friends!



Newsy Know-How

One of the goals this year [besides managing to find more time for writing / blogging / posting] is to get a newsletter going.  Sure, I could write one now and again [I think], but it needs to be a regular feature.  Can I do “regular”?  Hmm.  Methinks not—not right now.  But never say never (as JJ, one of the Triple Threat Investigation Agency private eyes, often resolutely says).

Let’s consider what makes a good newsletter, besides the aforementioned regularity.  But speaking of, if you’re planning to start sending out newsletters, commit to it.  Determine when / how often and inform your followers accordingly.  Let them know what they can expect.  As an FYI, it’s said morning is the best time to send out items such as newsletters, as most people check their email at least once every morning (I can attest to this as I do so, at least three times).

Most importantly first perhaps: decide if you even need to have a newsletter.  If yes, determine what the newsletter will entail: is it for a blog or a business, or . . . ?  Being a writer/blogger and sometimes editor, I’d want mine to encompass what’s happening in the writing and blogging world.  That, however, might result in a plethora of news that could bound all over the place, like Angry Birds and Pigs on a battlefield.


Focus on a few key items.  Cover a variety of topics, but not an overabundance.

What’s the goal?  Define what you intend to accomplish by sending one out—attract [more] followers, make sales, inform.  Ascertain your audience and write specifically for it.

You can certainly be both informational and promotional; keep the latter to a minimum (10-15%).

This may sound like a broken record (discs used on devices called turntables before downloading became the thing): write well.  Keep your newsletter readable and pertinent to your audience.  Your content should be engaging and free of typos and errors.  Research, as necessary, to ensure accuracy.

A newsletter title would be good, something that readers/followers will become familiar with and anticipate the arrival of.  Make sure it reflects what you’re “newslettering” about.  And while on the topic of titles, make certain you have intriguing (fetching) headings for your subject matter.

What’s that newsletter going to look like?  It should be appealing.  Avoid too much print (you don’t want readers suffering eye strain).  Have strategically placed photos and white space.  Choose an effective font (nothing too fancy).  Think: layout.

Don’t forget CTAs—call-to-action buttons—but use them only if you truly want/need your followers to do something (like forward your email to a friend or make a purchase).


You may want to set a schedule for six months or a year.  List topics you want to cover and set dates . . . and, yes, commit to the timetable.

Determine how to execute the newsletter.  Will you send it in its entirety or provide a link?

After you’ve finished (and polished) that awesome newsletter, upload it to your email marketing system (MailChimp is good, but this is by no means an endorsement).  When you send out, by the by, make sure your subject line is as engaging as your newsletter: capture the attention of your followers/readers so that they are intrigued enough to want to immediately open the email.

You know I can’t not say this <LOL>: do your due diligence.  See what others are doing to get a feel for what works (and what doesn’t).

Tracking is part of the equation, too, but let’s touch upon gauging traffic in another post.

You may also wish to do some testing to see what works—i.e. try different newsletter looks and approaches.  Or just go for it.  Time will dictate whether you continue or navigate a new route.

Learn.  Develop.  Grow.  Above all, my friends, have fun.

Prettying the Package: Boost Your Bio

Having a dynamic front cover and engaging back cover is vital for success (which = s-a-l-e-s).  What about your author bio—the one you have on your blog/website and the one you’ll have in your book?  (They should be different.)

While a bio would encompass information on your resume, it shouldn’t read like one; it should be well-crafted and appropriate for the “venue”.  For example, the bio on your site would be more detailed than the one included in your book.  You’ll want a super brief one, too, for social media sites.  Make sure they’re informative yet interesting; let’s not have readers do the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz thing.  You’ve just finished some great writing; make certain that bio is equally great.

Ensure your bio reflect your writing.  Consider your audience and voice.  What sort of impression are you looking (hoping) to convey?  If you haven’t (yet) been published, it’s perfectly all right to state this.  Just keep it short and sweet.  Remember: we all have to start somewhere.

Many people write bios in first person.  Opt for third; it should sound objective rather than subjective.  And what would you start with?  How about your first/best writing accomplishment, your literary achievement(s)?  If you have a lot, pare them down: highlight the cream of the crop.

Tell us about what you’ve written—books, articles, short stories, poems, posts.  If you’ve received awards or five-star reviews, or completed an internship, let us know.  And if you have a degree that’s relevant to your writing/blogging career, add it.  Feel free to include any first-hand experiences that augment credibility.

Particulars you probably don’t want to add (unless they’re truly pertinent to your writing/career): where you were born and/or reside, parental or educational info, travel or personal experiences.  Be factual, to be sure, but be you.  Give your bio personality.

If you’re funny, show off your wit.  If you’re writing a series, detail book features or quirks.  There’s nothing wrong with adding call-to-action buttons for followers/readers to sign up for a mailing list or enter giveaways.  And by all means, include links if applicable.

As I’ve often said: do your due diligence.  Take a gander at the bios of other writers and bloggers.  Get a feel for what works (and, again, what doesn’t).

Ask friends and family, and followers for feedback.  If you belong to a writing community, request input.  I follow the SPF Community and the advice/support that marvelous group provides is constructive and encouraging.

Lastly, a photo will be required for your book, blog/website, and social media (among other things).  Go for a good, professional-looking one.